A ceremony will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday January 28, 2011, to commemorate the transfer of ownership of the natural areas on Sandy Island from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina. The event will be held at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center located at 21424 N. Fraser Street, Georgetown, SC. (Directions provided at the end of the release.) Scheduled speakers include Transportation Secretary H.B. "Buck" Limehouse Jr., SCDOT Commission Chairman Danny Isaac, Mark Robertson, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina and Arnold M. Nemirow, Chairman of The Nature Conservancy, South Carolina Chapter.
Sandy Island is located in Georgetown County in the Pee Dee River Basin where it meets the Waccamaw River. The island is completely surrounded by water with no bridges connecting it to the mainland. Measuring four miles wide and six miles long, the 12,000 acres of Sandy Island is the largest freshwater island in the eastern United States.
SCDOT purchased the natural areas of the island in December of 1996 as a wetlands mitigation bank to allow highway projects in the coastal areas of the state to begin construction. The Conway Bypass (SC 22) and the Carolina Bays Parkway (SC 31) were two of the largest projects. When road projects disturb wetlands, anywhere from two to five acres of wetlands must be preserved for each acre that is impacted. The acquisition of Sandy Island permitted SCDOT to create a mitigation bank of more than 9,000 acres. That action allowed projects to move forward at an accelerated rate, saving taxpayers $53 million. In addition, the purchase of the island prevented any future development from occurring, which the property owners were considering.
Transportation Secretary H.B. Limehouse Jr.
Transportation Secretary H.B. "Buck" Limehouse Jr. served as Chairman of the SCDOT Commission when the proposal for SCDOT to purchase the island was being considered. Limehouse was already committed to preserving the environment and natural beauty of South Carolina's landscape. "There was no question that Sandy Island needed to be saved, so the first task was to convince the developers who owned the property to sell to the state. Once they were convinced to do the right thing, we needed to forge a private-public partnership that was cutting-edge for that time," said Limehouse. SCDOT was able to purchase the natural areas of the island for $10 million, and the purchase included legally binding protective covenants to conserve the land forever.
At the time SCDOT acquired Sandy Island's natural areas, The Nature Conservancy contributed $1 million towards the purchase and agreed to manage the land at no cost to the state. SCDOT agreed to transfer ownership of the property over to The Nature Conservancy when the mitigation credits had been exhausted. The Nature Conservancy has been managing the island's natural areas and wildlife for the past 14 years. The Conservancy has made the island accessible to the public and organizations and has supported research and education on the island. Chairman Danny Isaac
Mark Robertson, Executive Director of the The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina said: "We are excited and honored to receive title to this magnificent preserve – the largest undeveloped freshwater island on the east coast. The tremendous environmental, historical and cultural significance of the island make it a valuable asset for the people of South Carolina, and we look forward to developing partnerships with citizens and community organizations. It's important to acknowledge the enormous dedication and hard work that so many people have put forth over the past 15 years to make this possible. We are especially grateful to Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse and his staff who have been committed to ensuring that ownership of Sandy Island Preserve be transferred to The Nature Conservancy because of its decades-long history of land protection and stewardship."
Eric Krueger, Director of Science and Stewardship for The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina said: "Sandy Island is an ecological gem. With more than 9,000 acres, the Preserve supports both wetland and upland natural areas and habitats for many species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The wetland portion of the island includes a large swath of bald cypress-tupelo swamp, and a beautiful longleaf pine forest dominates the north end of the island, including trees that are more than 200 years old. The Conservancy has conducted controlled burns to ensure a healthy longleaf forest, surveyed plant and animal species, and worked to remove harmful invasive species such as water hyacinth. In addition, it has installed two hiking loops on the Preserve's north end."
Private homeowners and other residents live in a community called "The Village" on the southern tip of the island. Many are descendants of slaves who worked the island's rice plantations before the Civil War. The residents use boats to travel to and from their homes. SCDOT has secured a ferry boat and plans to provide regular service for the residents later this year.
Directions to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge Center:
From Georgetown SC:
From the intersection of Highways 521, 701, & 17, take Hwy 701 North towards Conway, S.C. The WNWR Visitor Center is exactly 20 miles from Wal-Mart on Hwy 701 North. The center will be on your right before you cross the Great Pee Dee River & Yauhannah Lake.
From Conway SC:
Take Highway 701 South 15 miles towards Georgetown, S.C. The WNWR Visitor Center is located on the left-hand side of the road right after you cross the Great Pee Dee River & Yauhannah Lake.